Grange vote delayed again, remanded to Planning Commission

Published 9:43 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2023

For the second month in a row, Smithfield’s Town Council has postponed voting on the Grange at 10Main development.

This time, developer Joseph Luter IV’s application for mixed-use zoning and six related permits is headed back to the town’s Planning Commission.

The 4-2 vote to table the matter came just after 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 following nearly two hours of public comments, mostly in opposition. The council previously tabled the matter on Aug. 1.

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Luter declined to comment on the postponement.

Councilman Jeff Brooks made a motion to deny the requested rezoning, which Councilman Wayne Hall seconded. Councilwoman Renee Rountree then proposed a substitute motion to table the application to “further study” the requested zoning, which she later clarified to mean sending it back to the Planning Commission for reconsideration. Vice Mayor Valerie Butler seconded Rountree’s motion, stating, “As of right now, I can’t vote for it,” but said she didn’t want to vote it down either.

Mayor Steve Bowman, despite describing the Grange as “ripe for decision,” joined with Rountree, Butler and Councilman Mike Smith in supporting Rountree’s motion to postpone the vote and send the Grange application back to the Planning Commission.

Brooks described the 304-home development as “far too dense” and with “too many unknowns.”

The Grange, as proposed, would be anchored by a building on an extension of Grace Street that would house the town’s farmers market, a restaurant and one or more permanent retail spaces. Three- and four-story apartments, a hotel, detached commercial space and single-family and duplex homes are also proposed.

Planning Commission Chairman Charles Bryan, at the council’s Aug. 1 meeting, had said he saw “nothing to gain” by the Planning Commission reconsidering Luter’s application.

The Planning Commission, after considering the application for two months, recommended in June that the rezoning and five of the requested special use permits be approved. The commissioners split 4-3 in adopting a motion by Commissioner Thomas Pope to recommend the council deny Luter’s request for a sixth permit that would allow the Grange to exceed the town’s 35-foot maximum building height. Pope clarified in July that his intent had been only to oppose the four-story apartments, not the three-story ones or the hotel.

Luter’s father, former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph Luter III, had purchased the roughly 57-acre Grange site in 2020. Luter IV, at the commission’s public hearing on the Grange in May, said his father was becoming increasingly impatient with the approval process.

The Planning Commission’s Sept. 12 agenda, released the day after the council’s Sept. 5 meeting, makes no mention of the Grange, which may indicate that the commissioners will not reconsider the matter until October.

One of the aspects the planners may be asked to reexamine is the development’s projected traffic. A March letter from the Virginia Department of Transportation to the town had estimated the Grange would add roughly 5,500 vehicular trips per day to Smithfield’s roads. Luter’s traffic engineer, Karen McPherson, had assured the council at an Aug. 31 work session that the Grange’s proposed road configuration with entrances on Grace, Cary and Main streets and Route 10 would accommodate traffic “at full buildout” in 2030 and “six years beyond that,” though the matter remains a sticking point for the project’s opponents.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:022 a.m. on Sept. 6 with additional details.